Reigning as one of the most iconic films in cinema history, I had to watch Easy Rider. A film shot on real locations with a young Jack Nicholson and made on a budget of $55,000, I had no idea what I was in for. But with a tagline of “A man went looking for America … and couldn’t find it anywhere,” it’s clear someone is making a statement.
It starts with Wyatt (Peter Fonda) and his pal Billy (Dennis Hopper) travelling to Mexico to pick up some cocaine. They are two freewheeling bikers and just as they are getting ready to smuggle the drugs back across the border, Steppenwolf’s “The Pusher” plays. This great song builds up to Wyatt and Billy jumping on their motorcycles and hitting the open road.
Easy Rider is about finding freedom and not playing by any rules. I love the opening sequence and it quickly becomes one of those films where you forget what you’re doing, what time it is and where you are. Paying close attention, it’s easy to understand what director Dennis Hooper has done with this film. Instead of spelling everything out in detail, he opts for a next to nothing plot with characters that we can’t identify with. They simply exist and we accept them in their movements, as they bounce between different people, each one stranger than the last.
Wyatt and Billy’s most interesting encounter has got to be when they meet George Hanson (Jack Nicholson) after they get thrown in jail for driving without a license. George is an alcoholic … and also a lawyer. He is by far, the most realised character in the whole film and he decidedly tags along with Wyatt and Billy’s cross-country trip. He is the everyman and someone who is keen for something more than a conformist life. That’s why he’s such a cool character.
As a trio, they represent freedom and liberation. The story is shapeless because the characters decide what happens next, and we join them as they ride their bikes across the heart of America. Those easy riders are always on the move and they take copious amounts of drugs. So, how can they be free if the only way they can face the world is through the curtains of LSD and cannabis?
That’s the great thing about Easy Rider is that it can be examined on many levels. Do these characters represent different faces of America or the conflicts that can happen when searching for freedom? I think Jack Nicholson sums it up perfectly, “Yeah, freedom. That’s what it’s all about. But it’s difficult to become free when you’re sold and bought in a marketplace.”
So much has been said about Easy Rider that it feels virtually impossible to put my own mark on it. Today, in our technology-obsessed world, I think a lot of people would take one look at this film and call it trash. Sure, it’s very dated but there is more to it than meets the eye. Anyway, it was extremely successful when it was released and was one of the first of its kind, so credit where it’s due.
A cult classic through and through. There is nothing spectacular about Easy Rider, and that’s what I enjoyed most about it. I also love what it represented for the people experiencing the counter-culture movement in the ’60s. Whether you connect with it or not, Easy Rider is a nice, chilled movie that’s great to relax to.
Director: Denis Hopper
Writers: Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda, Terry Southern
Stars: Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda, Jack Nicholson.
Rent. Buy. Stream – EASY RIDER.